Posted On: July 24, 2009 by Christopher T. Hurley

Data on Distracted Drivers withheld due to Political Pressures

Matt Richtel reports for the New York Times, (7/21) results from a 2003 long-term study of 10,000 drivers to determine the effects of distracted driving were withheld from the public partly due to political pressures. The goal of the study was to determine the real danger posed by drivers using cell phones, however hundreds of pages of research and warnings about cell phone usage while driving were not made public, in part, because of concerns about angering Congress.

Today, “the full body of research is being made public for the first time by two consumer advocacy groups, which filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the documents.” In recent interviews, officials who withheld information have asserted that they were “urged to withhold the research to avoid antagonizing members of Congress who had warned the [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to stick to its mission of gathering safety data but not to lobby states.”

Critics maintain that withholding such important information has fostered a “behind-the-wheel multitasking” culture that has cost many lives. The researchers “estimated that cell phone use by drivers caused around 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents over all in 2002.”

As a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, I am disappointed that political pressures would keep critical information from becoming public knowledge. The more cell phone usage behind the wheel is studied, the more we are able to understand how truly dangerous distracted driving is. I urge all drivers to avoid driving while distracted as it can cause death or injury not only to youself but also to others on the roadway.

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